Tyler Maddox created a robotic platform that allows a camera to rotate around, over and under larger products and produce a 3-dimensional slide show. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Photo device captures complete image

Ina room where gadgets invite comparisons to James Bond and "Star Wars," Tyler Maddox has one-upped his competition in the world of commercial photography.

Setting out to simply build a better mouse trap for online product displays, Maddox developed and built a complex photo platform capable of seamlessly capturing objects as big as motorcycles from any angle.

"It's basically a robotic camera that allows you to rotate around, over and under certain products," said the Jacksonville native. "The camera flies around the product, using motion-control technology to shoot all sides of product. Every product gets its own motion path. It's a real-life way to do 3-D modeling without having to create it with a 3-D software program."

He dubbed the 14-foot-tall, 18-foot-long and 14-foot-wide contraption the Orbiter, although he toyed with titles such as Gyro, before putting it to work last January.

Since then, Maddox, along with co-workers Matt Doell and Phill Young, has shot 500 products — from motorcycle gear to televisions.

With nine axes of motion, it works well for guitars, shoes, television components or "anything where you want to see every side," he said.

Maddox cut his photographic teeth shooting sporting events, primarily motorcycle-racing venues in the 1990s. He moved into commercial photography in 2005 and started shooting 360-degree files, but the results weren't satisfying. He started thinking about how he could capture views of an entire object without simply spinning it on his 7-foot turntable at the far end of his studio.

"Rather than just spinning something around, I wanted to see over the top and underneath," Maddox said.

In early 2009, he began designing the Orbiter. He sought mechanical advice from engineering friends and two-time Academy Award filmography winner Mike Sorensen, who led him through the maze of motor-control issues.

"He drew a lot of napkin sketches, roughing out what he wanted to do," said Jacob Ensign of Rogue Energies. "I immediately thought it was a real neat idea when he was explaining it. He told us what he wanted to accomplish and how many ways he wanted to rotate and what sort of camera he wanted to use.

Mutual friendships led Maddox to Sorensen, who has developed 50 motion-control systems.

"He's incredibly enthusiastic, and it's clear he's a good businessman, too," Sorensen said. "It's tough when you work with people who have passion but have no business sense. Tyler has things pretty well covered. Needless to say, Tyler and I became friends pretty quickly."

Sorensen steered Maddox toward off-the-shelf components where he could.

"Basically everything Tyler is using was invented in the late '60s and early '70s," Sorensen said. "The unique thing Tyler brought to it was the configuration — the actual idea of a moving mat box. It's perfect for a product shot. Once it's programmed in you can change out products and shoot and shoot and shoot."

The biggest hurdle, Ensign said, was packaging the elements, which weigh hundreds of pounds.

"Due to the sheer size, he had to keep things light enough to respond quickly," he said. "If it was too heavy and gained too much mass, it would be hard to change directions quickly."

Once the design was in hand, Maddox looked for someone to build the device.

"It would have cost $150,000, so I did it myself," Maddox said. "My dad has always been a fabricator and inventor of sorts, following a string of building and inventing."

Ensign jumped in fashioning fixes on the go as they cut, machined and welded at odd hours.

"There are a lot of ways to do a lot of things," Ensign said. "The one we landed on was the most efficient way (financially), the amount of space it would take up and the simplicity of use."

Maddox has made good on connections with local advertising agencies Steelhead and Snapshot and hopes extend relationships with Musician's Friend and other Internet retailers.

"This provides the best way to showcase a product online," he said. "With (a growing percentage) of all sales going toward the Internet, everybody is trying to figure out how to show products better. This is the closest thing to putting a product in your hand and spinning it so you can see every side."

He even sees possibilities for auction sites and Craigslist.

"Instead of just being a photographer," Maddox said, "I'm learning to be a marketer, and that's a whole 'nother beast because the market potential is massive."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail

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